FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Sam Darnold stepped to the podium as the New York Jets' starting quarterback again, his once-swollen spleen no longer keeping him from playing in a game.
Nearly a month of medical tests, tough questions, major concerns and big-time frustration is over.
And so is Darnold's time on the sideline.
"The spleen is good, finally," a smiling Darnold said Thursday. "I finally get to wear a white jersey out there and be part of the team. It's been good to be back officially and get some practices under my belt."
Darnold will start Sunday at home against Dallas, his first game since the season opener. A bout with mononucleosis sidelined him for three games after being diagnosed on Sept. 11. He was cleared by doctors Monday to play in a game, and Darnold has no concerns about getting back out on the field — with Cowboys defenders looking to make for a rough return.
"When I'm out there playing, I'm not worried about guys hitting me or anything," Darnold said. "I'm trusting the guys up front to do their thing and I'm trusting the receivers to get open when it's time to pass the ball. For me, it's all about trust.
"When I do get hit, I know I'm not in danger anymore. They're letting me go out there and play because it's safe, so I'm not worried about that."
Darnold will wear customized protective padding around his ribs/spleen area, likely for the rest of the season, just as a precaution. He said it's not restrictive, and will surely give him peace of mind.
The 0-4 Jets have struggled mightily without their starting quarterback, failing to generate much in his absence. Trevor Siemian started the second game of the season, but was lost for the year with an ankle injury, so third-stringer Luke Falk was under center the last two games — as New York rolled up a total of just 233 yards combined.
"You are what your record says you are and right now we aren't a very good offense," offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. "Sam is not a magic wand. He is a really good player that is going to lift the execution of this team and he is a really gifted player with the ball in his hands, and we are really excited to have him.
"But there are still things that we need to clean up, fundamentally and technically, to make sure the other 10 guys are doing their jobs the right way."
The offensive line has allowed an NFL-worst 23 sacks, including 10 last week at New England. Falk, in a tough spot after being merely a practice squad quarterback until Week 2, held on to the ball too long at times. He had no chance to do anything at others.
"Yeah, he should be good, we should not have him dying on the field," coach Adam Gase joked of Darnold. "We need to do a better job protecting the quarterback and we need to get the ball out on time, we need to run the right routes, it's got to be the right play call."
That combination of errors so far has affected the entire operation of the offense, from Le'Veon Bell and the running backs to the wide receivers and tight ends. The Jets rank last in the NFL in total offense.
Darnold now is being looked at by some as a savior of sorts, someone who'll immediately get everything back on track. The 22-year-old quarterback is keeping things in perspective.
"For me, it's all about staying within myself," he said. "Not doing too much."
The comeback nearly happened last week at Philadelphia as Darnold went through two days of practices running the first-team offense. But a medical test last Thursday night confirmed he wasn't yet healthy enough to play.
"When you're out that long," he said, "you realize how awesome the game is because you miss it so much."
Now, he'll be able to knock the rust off for real, with a chance to get the Jets in the win column for the first time this season.
"Having a couple of weeks of practice under my belt is a good thing," Darnold said. "It's definitely going to help, but there's nothing like Sunday. Playing the first couple of series will be a little bit of a shock to the system, you could say, but I think I'm going to be ready.
"And hopefully, after those couple of series, I think, I'll feel right at home."
NOTES: LB C.J. Mosley (groin), DE Henry Anderson (shoulder), LG Kelechi Osemele (shoulder/knee/illness) and RB-KR Trenton Cannon (foot/ankle) didn't practice. ... CB Nate Hairston (knee) was limited after not practicing Wednesday. Also limited were LB Jordan Jenkins (calf), DL Quinnen Williams (ankle) and WRs Josh Bellamy (shoulder) and Demaryius Thomas (hamstring/knee). ... S Jamal Adams won his appeal of his $21,056 fine by the NFL for his hit on Browns QB Baker Mayfield in Week 2. "I knew I was going to win it because it was legal," Adams said of the hit. He added that with the money he'll be able to keep, he'll spend it to buy his mother Michelle a gift for her birthday — which was also Thursday.
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